They’d scored 80 points in six of their seven games this season. They’d scored at least 84 points in their last five games. Arella Guirantes, their star guard, was averaging 24.6 points a game to open the season, the second-best mark in the Big Ten conference.
“We thought it was going to take an incredible, special defensive effort to get a win here today but I really didn’t dream we’d hold them 35 points below their average,” head coach Amy Williams said after the game. “Pretty proud of our defensive effort.”
Rutgers was averaging 85.7 a game. Nebraska beat ’em 53-50 in a Sunday matinee.
And in doing so, Nebraska also held Guirantes to eight points on 3-of-24 shooting. It’s the first time since Feb. 18, 2019, that Guirantes has been held under 10 points in a game, a stretch that spans 43 games.
Credit forward Issie Bourne, who drew the defensive assignment often Sunday afternoon. She made sure to personally credit a team effort in stopping Guirantes, but Bourne’s individual effort was noticeable.
“It kind of boosted my confidence again to know that I can guard the perimeter in future games when I need to step up and do that for my team,” Bourne said. “Obviously a team effort, but it’s exciting for me moving forward.
Nebraska made things uncomfortable at that end of the floor for everyone. Diamond Johnson, a former 5-star guard, took 15 shots to get her team-leading 17 points.
“I really thought Issie had great focus, Sam (Haiby) had good ball pressure to start things off and just kind of set the tone for our defense in what we call our Pirate position,” Williams said. “(Issie) made (Guirantes) take tough shots.”
Nothing came easy.
Not in the paint, where the Scarlet Knights were blocked four times, kept off the free throw line (eight attempts), and thoroughly out-rebounded (47-34).
Not in transition.
“Rutgers really seemed to be settling for halfcourt sets,” Williams said. “What that allowed for us to do was just defensively find ways to rotate help defense over.” Center Kate Cain was able to go after shots all night because forward Bella Cravens (13 rebounds) was there helping the helper and boxing out under the hoop.
And not from the 3-point line, where Rutgers was just 2-for-16, including a shot at the end with a chance to tie the game that missed everything.
With a little over a minute to play, Nebraska called time with a 51-50 lead and the ball. Rutgers hadn’t shown an ability to cash in from beyond the arc at all, so a bucket or free throws might have put the Scarlet Knights in scramble mode as the clock ticked under 30 seconds.
But forward Bella Cravens took a pull-up elbow jumper with 1:08 on the clock and clanked off iron. Rutgers had three shots to take the lead on the following possession.
A missed 3 from Johnson with 45 seconds left preceded a contested look at the hoop for Guirantes—another miss with 31 seconds left—which preceded another Guirantes miss with 21 seconds left. Nebraska forced Rutgers to make a big shot and the Scarlet Knights couldn’t find one.
Cain secured the rebound off the third miss and Nebraska took the ball. At first it looked like Rutgers might not foul (but it also didn’t look like trapping was the plan either), and when one was called on Guirantes with 13 seconds left she looked frustrated with the call.
Another foul with 11 seconds left sent guard Ashley Scoggin to the line. She confidently put both home and gave Nebraska the 53-50 lead.
Rutgers chose not to call time. The game ended with a contested heave from Guirantes as the clock ran out.
Guard Sam Haiby once again paced Nebraska in scoring with 16 points to go with five boards and five assists. Bourne had her second-straight double-double with 11 and 12 (a career-high). Scoggin had 11 as well.
The Huskers (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) will be back in action on Thursday when they head to Ann Arbor to face No. 16 Michigan (6-0, 1-0 Big Ten). Tip is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.